Why I care

We talk a lot about white privilege, but it is a little more discomforting to broach a discussion on white poverty. Somehow it hits closer to home.

I grew up in the heart of the Annapolis Valley, a small rural farming community known for its potatoes and apple orchards. My community was aptly named Melvern Square, as it was a squared off corridor firmly anchored by three pillars: family, community and faith. My father was one of two pastors called to minister in this area, ensuring that I lived my life firmly fixed within the public’s eye- on first name basis with most everyone I’d meet.

It was an idyllic life in ways. We were poor but we got by. I remember trips to the country store- a one room building with wide wooden clapboards filling in the floor space, glass candy jars containing five cent goodies lining the back wall. When the front door was cracked even so much as an inch, an old-fashioned bell signalled both your appearance and your exit, ensuring you would never peruse the ice cream freezer or chip rack anonymously. Our house was sandwiched between the community center on the right and my father’s little brown country church on the left. Behind our property was the community pond for skating on in the winter and avoiding in the summer- as we all speculated that alligators or other forms of creepy-crawlies might live in there. Across the street was the consolidated school housing grades 1-6- a school which I never had the privilege of attending.

The school I attended was a private institution located in a neighboring community. When I entered the educational milieu, I quickly realized that my life was not what it had seemed to be. I became the “other”- teased for my different religious affiliation, tortured for my family connection, belittled for my appearance. Separated for my difference. I was disconnected in many ways. And I soon came to understand the term “white trash” and its unflattering connotations, as that is what I began to feel I was while in this school. Trash. Unloved and undesirable.

My schooling experience was thus one in which oppression was very visible. This same private school I attended later came to be exposed regarding “issues” of a very serious, abusive nature. These privately held secrets of the upper echelon came to be outed in a very visible way via news media when I was in high school. When I now see images of residential schools, it brings to mind sordid mental pictures of what that time of life was like for both me and my classmates. That experience has forever changed the way I look at education.

So then. As long as I have been a student, I have been interested in ethics of care in classrooms. As I did not have the privilege of being exposed to ethics of care in most of my formative years of schooling, I now spend my life advocating for these pedagogies of love and care along with the foundational rights that I believe all people- young and old- are worthy of receiving and deserve to experience as a basic human right. By virtue of their humanity.

One of the specific memories I have as a student took place when I was in Grade 7, attending this same school mentioned above. A young man in Grade 10, who had been having a particularly difficult time in his life, went around one day after school saying good-bye to everyone he could see in the hallway. It struck me as strange that he would seek me out, as I was quite a bit younger than him and outside his social circle. That night, as I would come to discover, he drove his car into a wooded area and shot himself in the head. This was my first exposure to suicide.

Rather than taking time to counsel us in our grief and confusion, the teachers at this school used this opportunity to tell us how this boy, and thus his classmates, had been and were heading down the wrong path and needed to get things straightened out. It was one of the most poignant memories of my schooling. I can still hear the judgemental voice of the female teacher who told me and my classmates that Donnie* had obviously been in the wrong, and I will never forget that mental picture of him the day before he died, his face resolute: epitomized by soft spoken words and a calm demeanor. Although there are many layers to this story that I could pursue at length, my experiences as a student living through a deficit of care in my schooling, along with the many, many others of my classmates who echo this sentiment, has convinced me that care is the absolute number one priority of educators in the classroom. We are educating students for academic learning, yes. But I trust we are first and foremost developing caring, compassionate human beings in the form of both students and teachers who will live empathically in an interconnected, interdependent world. As an educator, this is fundamental to my practice.

I believe that when people learn to care, their learning is enhanced and their growth is furthered. Students and teachers are all the better for the care that they have cultivated, and I am not alone in holding this belief. Miller (2010) cites Nel Noddings’ work as being premiere in the encouragement of educators in fostering this care ethic. She suggests that educators pursue caring as one of their main goals in schooling and education, teaching students to learn to care for themselves, others and the environment as well as to care for ideas and learning (Miller, 2010, p. 63). Noddings has laid out a very systematic, comprehensive approach to caring that entails teachers be clear and unapologetic in their goal: “the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving and lovable people” (Noddings in Miller, 2010, p.64). I can attest to the fact that many, many others hold this belief as I have heard from people writing in response to my blog on what students remember most about teachers. They almost unanimously stated the same: students remember that their teachers care.

We are a culmination of our past and present experiences- and the breadth and depth of these same experiences will hopefully lead to a brighter, more positive future as we learn and grow.  When we know better, we do better.  I trust that this statement will always be true of my life and that my legacy will be one of care and love.

On Boredom and Wonder

It’s a day to be filled with wonder and gratitude.

The water is absolutely crystal clear- so clear I can see the lines along the sandy floor of the ocean bed where little hermit crabs have dragged their hard-shelled home along for the ride. It is one of those blissful summer days and we are spending it, more or less, here at a little piece of P.E.I. paradise called Canoe Cove. My daughter remarks, “I don’t know why they call it Canoe Cove- nobody canoes there.” No, but they do search for bar clams, and skim board, and throw Frisbees and build sand castles and make fairy forts and carve out time for seal sightings. Oh, and swim. The swimming here is glorious. If you catch it at low or high tide- any time at all really, it is worth a swim. The pools of water just perfect for families with young children. Later in the summer, we’ll be back to swim again in warm August waters and then we’ll climb out dripping wet, ready for a rest on shore before combing through low-lying blueberry bushes just for a taste of that juicy summer sweetness on our eager tongues.

One summer, the daisies grew so plentifully, I plaited them into winding crowns and placed them on my daughter’s heads before posing them (safely) along the edge of a cliff so as to take their picture.  They obliged- as long as I promised to have a swim with them as soon as our photo-shoot had ended. We have had family reunions here in this place: birthday parties and rehearsal suppers the night before the wedding day. This place is home to me and my family.

It is a little bit of God’s glorious heaven here on earth.

Later on, we change out of sandy bathing suits and pack up our faded sheet and books and all the other beach trappings we’ve brought with us to whittle away the day. We pack it all in, and then we bid a wistful fond adieu to those we’ve left behind. Two grandparents, an aunt and a family friend. Beaches are the best places to re-connect. And then we drive the winding dirt lane, past the country church with noble steeple reaching high to the sky, so as to cross the bridge over waters lined with bulrushes. We then turn down towards farm country.

As we drive past the first field green with summer grasses, I notice a whole herd of Brown Swiss and Angus moving quickly towards the corner of one fence. It is the fence closest to the road, thus why I noticed this strange convoy. I can’t imagine what the commotion is all about as this is not milking nor feeding time, nor is this the well-worn path to the barn. What I do catch lying there on the ground, something I just happen to notice out of the corner of my eye as we drive quickly by, is a bright, red balloon sitting motionless on the grass at that particular corner of the fence- wayward remnant from a birthday party next door. The cows move toward it in frenzied furore. Their sole focus- the object of their intent driving this processional is the perplexing thing which has landed just inside the perimeter of their territory, an area they know is clearly marked for them. They stand back a distance, but every one of their soft muzzles points expectantly toward that bright colored, mysterious object.

They appear transfixed. With wonder, and awe and curiosity.

If animals can exhibit this beautiful combination of attributes and character, how much more then should we too be in wondrous awe at the beauty and miracle of the life we are living. And yet, twice this past week, I have heard school-aged children speak the ill-fated words: “I’m bored.” I wonder myself, what dis-service are we doing to our children that this little word has even become part of their vocabulary?

There is so much to wonder in, gaze at, fix our attention upon.

Life is too interesting to be boring.

William Ayers had this to say about teaching:

“Teaching is hard work, tougher than learning, because you must find an infinite number of ways to let students learn. And teaching is all that much tougher when you retreat from the spotlight, redirect the focus of attention to the students themselves, now at center stage. You place yourself to the side and become something new: the guide and the mentor, the coach and the conductor. You notice modes of energy everywhere, life and effort in a thousand directions. You need to summon new courage to teach in this place, a keener attentiveness, a more responsive style. One new challenge will be to create an environment for learning and living that is rich enough, deep enough, and wide enough to embrace and challenge the students who actually walk through the door (Ayers, 2003, p. 27-28)

The challenge: to summon the courage to teach in this way and to be ready to rise to the occasion for learning that is deep and soul-changing.

Recently, I took my students on a listening walk. Run down emotionally from constantly asking them all to settle their inside voices and classroom energies to a dull roar, it was a move done initially in desperation.  Rather than sound like a broken record, we took that excitement and passion and channelled it into an exercise in concentration. We walked as a community of learners on a dusty dirt road with the sole purpose of noticing things- both with our eyes and ears. With our hands and feet. We saw so much that we came back and wrote about it as a class, compiling our findings in a classroom book about bugs, and birds and flowers. About a farmer driving his tractor as he ploughed a field in preparation for planting. About cars whizzing by. Things we’d otherwise have missed had we not taken the time to be present in those precious moments of learning and discovery.

I never heard the words, “I’m bored.”

On Being a Learner

Teacher. One who influences another in their growth and development as a multi-faceted person. That we can be influential in this endeavor is an amazing bonus. Those teachers with influence are said to be difference makers. And it doesn’t take a B.Ed to be one either.

I have been thinking about that word ‘teacher’ for a while now, wondering what a teacher really is. Who a teacher is. What they do. And how one goes about becoming one. How one becomes influential as one. How a teacher can really make a difference. And in thinking about such, I think I might have found a few answers to my many questions today. And by that I mean, I was taught a few things by a few students of mine today. They- that is MY STUDENTS: they are, and continue to be, some of my greatest teachers.

Here’s why.

It is our very last day of regular classes, and I am reviewing. I am trying to use the last moments of kindergarten to the maximum of my ability. We do our morning routine, three poems and two books. This, all accomplished before first snack of the day. And then, after recess I start in on the math lesson.

It’s going along terrifically.

When from out of nowhere, I hear the fateful words: “I’m bored.” As in, this math lesson you are teaching me, Mrs.G., it is boooooring. I am a little thrown off by this. This word: boring. I really haven’t heard this word a whole lot this year as we keep a pretty frantic pace here in KA all the live long day. There really is no time to be bored in kindergarten, tbh. In fact, I rarely hear those words. But today, they ring loud and clear.

Booooring.

“This is boring,” he says again, shrugging his shoulders meaningfully in my direction. I explain calmly that we are playing games- that this should be FUN. F.U.N. To no avail. He is not convinced, and he shows me with every fibre of his being. This is NOT fun.

So there.

Meanwhile, I focus my attention on another student who is struggling with these fun games I have planned. I patiently explain to her what I am looking for, but after several failed attempts at making myself clear- along with a bored student or two waiting in the wings and the one I am working with nearly in tears: I can feel frustration also rising in me. This isn’t working out as I planned it. As I thought it would.

This lesson isn’t flying. (The fun and games are now over…)

Sometimes, it is in humility that we learn our greatest lessons. It is when we are humbled to the point of being brought down low – taken down to a place where our ego can’t get the credit any longer. It is then that we find what we’ve been looking for. When we find answers to our bigger questions.

But sometimes it takes time to become aware of this important realization. It takes going through the waters to find dry land.

I wish I could say that I stopped the lesson immediately and switched gears- I didn’t. I kept plodding on. And I did so until something broke. And it was that moment of brokenness that made me realize- I am not here to fix problems, to make everything perfect. I am not here to help children reach perfection, to push them farther than they are ready to go: I am here to support them in their journey and walk beside them as they travel. I am here to learn from them- learn what it is to be a beginning learner. What that feels like to be a five-year old learner- what it feels like to be tired, frustrated, hungry and sad. What it feels like to be bored. And then, I am here to figure out how those emotions affect the person each of my students bring with them to class each and every day. So that they can learn better.

And so that I can learn better too.

That is, so that I can learn to be a better listener, a better empathizer, a better caregiver. So that I can learn when to nudge and when to pull back. So that I can learn when I need to support and when I need to release. So that I can learn how to accept and let go the things I cannot change. But also learn how to graciously and lovingly embrace the things I can.

This afternoon, I made a purposeful, intentional and deliberate decision: to be mindful of my students. To attend to them as they talked and played. To allow them to be themselves. And I found that in focusing my energy on my own learning, I was a happier teacher in that time frame then when I was trying so hard to accomplish my goals and outcomes. I was more at peace.

This isn’t to say that we can’t be focused and organized, doing what it is that needs to be done- but it is a cautionary warning. We must not let our individual agendas stand in the way of our all important learning. Learning which often happens when we are least expecting it to occur.

At least, that’s the way it has been for me today. Unexpected nuggets of wisdom from the little blessings in my life.

And I am still learning.

A Gift Worth Giving

I am sitting Row G, Seat 2. It is intermission, half way through the musical we’ve been enjoying when from midway up the theatre comes a call ringing out through the auditorium. “Is there a doctor in the house?” The noise reverberates. The acoustics are of course meant for this kind of sound.

It takes a minute for the crowd to register what has just been said, for we are still in shock at someone standing up and bellowing. Usually, people try not to draw attention to themselves in public venues such as this is. It is unusual to hear someone yelling frantically. But all this takes but a moment to process, for very soon, we can see that someone is performing chest compressions on another lying prostrate. And very faintly, you can hear a woman crying. The cries begin to sound louder as the noise in the theatre falls to a hush. And we are left transfixed as we gaze upon the scene.

Why is it when someone is in the midst of their most vulnerable moments in life that we as people find it hard to turn away? We cannot shift our gaze? We are drawn to tragedy like moths to a lantern.

Mesmerized.

Quite soon, two ladies begin to make their way towards the commotion. They are nurses. They do what needs to be done while waiting for the defibrillator to arrive. And when the latter does come, there is a audible sound of relief that seems to ripple from the epicentre of all the action. The trouble has not yet passed, but it appears that there is some hopeful signs indicating that things will work out after all.

However. I for one cannot seem to shake that unsettled feeling. A wishfulness, a wanting: to have something of worth to offer.

I turn to my seatmate and say how helpless I feel to be there and not have anything of worth to put forward. I find myself regretting my lack of life-saving skills, something I could offer up in a time like this. But as I have none, I come up shorthanded.

I am neither a doctor, a nurse or a paramedic. I am a teacher. What good is that in an emergency?

After the gentleman in scrutiny is taken by ambulance, the audience is then told by the director of the show that he is on his way to the hospital. The director then thanks the two women who have assisted in the incident and announces the beginning of the second half of the show. We settle in, but if I am any kind of representative for the others there in that theatre, I am sure we are all watching with a little more heaviness and somber tone than when we had begun the first half. One never knows what might happen in the course of an evening. This event just reminds us of that sobering fact once again.

As I watch the remainder of the show, I am struck with a thought. The actors, singers and dancers who entertain this theatre full of people are also unable to help this gentleman’s need for medical attention. As much as they have exhibited their many talents and accomplishments, lifesaving is apparently not among them. Along with the audience, they were helpless to assist in what this man needed most: someone to rescue him in his time of distress.

The more I think about it, though; the more I realize that while this fact is true, the gifts the members of the theatre company had to offer the rest of us were certainly worthwhile and welcome. The gift of a diversion, a welcome offering from this poignant real-life scene we had just been witness to is a worthy gift to bestow. And that we the audience were able to carry on and enjoy the music and dance was testament to the great gifts and talents that this troupe had to offer. Grace under pressure at its best.

It is a gift to be able to distract those who are privy to sorrowful incidents. A gift that doctors and nurses and paramedics are at times unable to deliver due to their primary concerns with matters of a more serious nature. A gift that entertainers were made for. And it’s okay that the gifts which were offered last night were different. Because each person involved last night had gifts to bear. That those gifts were not the same in value and contribution was not necessary for them to be worthwhile, for them to be worth using. That the gifts were used and given over to help in the benefit of others is what really matters.

A couple days ago, I was doing an activity with my young kindergarten students that required some assistance from older leadership students in the Grade 6 class. An Educational Assistant offered to accompany me, but asked if I could also add two of the older students she worked with who have some exceptional needs to my mix. I was delighted.

When I observed the two special students as they interacted with my kindergarten students, I was struck by the gifts these two had to offer: gifts of patience, kindness, and wonder. They didn’t make any of my students feel “less than” when they were unable to perform a particular task, they didn’t ask them to “hurry up” when they lagged behind, and they had immeasurable wonder and excitement in completing the various stations we were involved in.

It was a joy to watch them using their gifts.

Although I can be prone to feeling inadequate when presented with a situation for which I feel I am less than skilled for, less than capable of assisting with. Feeling like my gifts are not as worthwhile, at times, when I see the skill sets/gifts that others have. It is a good reminder to myself that in giving over to these feelings of insecurity, I am allowing myself to be sucked into the lie that tells me ‘some gifts are better’. That tells me some gifts are worth more.

Our gifts were meant for us, designed especially for us. We were meant for the gifts- meant for the life we’ve been given, whatever that life and those accompanying gifts might be. And it doesn’t matter how important or distinguished or notable the gifts of our life are- it matters that we use the gifts. And use them lavishly. And when we do, the gift goes on, used for a higher purpose. Used as part of a bigger plan. Worthy and highly regarded no matter how that gift happens to come packaged.

The gift of being ourselves- it’s a gift worth giving.  Each and every time we offer it up.

The Different Faces of Love

Should a teacher be like a parent in her role concerning her students? Some might say “yes”. In both parental and educational positions, we are called to care, compassion and empathy in our interactions toward the children with whom we are connected. We are both called to help children grow and develop. We are called to nurture and protect. To teach and discipline. I would even go so far as to say that teachers, like parents, come to love their students. But are teachers called to “parent” their students?

I know I would have answered that question in the affirmative until I did more thinking on it recently. That is, I would certainly agree that in as much as is possible, teachers should try to fill that parental role for students while they are in their care during the day. And truly, I have very much felt like a parent at times to the precious seven that I spend the majority of my day with- so much so that they often call me Mom. I gently correct them when this happens, but it doesn’t seem to matter. It’s June and I am still getting, “Mom.., I mean Mrs. Gard…”

But more and more, I am beginning to think that my role as teacher needs to have some boundaries. Not because I don’t love my students. Not because I don’t care. But because I do. And because their parents love them more. So,I need to protect the boundaries around private and public life for both my students and myself. In contemplating this question, I came up with a few reasons why I feel teachers and parents have distinctly different roles.

Parents are largely in charge of the personal stuff. That is, they are the ones grooming, clothing and feeding their youngsters. They are the ones that make the final decisions about what happens before students come to school- and they are the ones who follow through on what happens after school- where kids go, what they do, how they do it. Parents are in charge of what extra-curricular activities their children are involved in and how much homework gets done. They are responsible for bedtimes and hygiene. They are the ones who deal with fears and anxieties that arise when the quiet of evening settles in. When the night-time dark wakes them from their sleep. Parents are the ones who greet them in the morning. And they are the ones who have the knowledge of what truly makes their child tick. Parents are the experts in this area.

Teachers, on the other hand, are the ones who are primarily involved in the public life of the child. They are the ones teaching key literacy and numeracy components. They are concerned with social, physical and emotional development. Teachers are interested with cognition and fine and gross motor skills. We are the ones who educate for a deeper appreciation of music and the arts. The ones educating children for social justice and critical awareness. And yes, while we also are always on the lookout for ways to teach life to our students, we would never want to unjustly steal the gift of this opportunity away from parents. This is your birthright as long as you protect it. You are your child’s first and most important teacher.

Because the lines are drawn largely around the realms of private and public spheres, teachers’ and parents’ roles are different. This might seem like common sense, but often it becomes confusing to teachers who come to love the children in similar ways to that of the parents, as well as confusing for students. We develop very close relationships with our ‘kids’. And we care deeply for them. Teachers love their students. But we can never duplicate that love that comes from a father or mother. That love is special, it is unique. It is distinctly different from a teacher love. And although love cannot easily be quantified or defined, it is important to realize that there are different kinds of love for different situations. Love is ‘big enough’ to ‘be enough’ for the person bent on giving it away- no matter what kind of love that gift might be wrapped up as.

No matter how it is packaged. How it is offered.

That gift of love can be that which is the unconditional support and care of a father. The selfless love of a teacher. The protective adoration of a mother. The committed affection of an educational assistant. Love is expansive enough to take on many faces. Big enough to fill up many spaces. Love is broad enough and wide enough to fill up a child’s heart with however much love is given.

There is always room, always space for more.

And although we might do up love packages in different ways, depending on who we are and the relationship we have with the child: parents, your children know one thing for sure. When they come to school, they know they should be loved. They know they should be cared for in as compassionate a manner as is possible- as compassionate a manner as we who are teachers are capable of offering. And while students might not see their teacher as a day-time substitution for Mom or Dad, that’s okay. As long as kids know that they are safe, cared for and being challenged in both little and big ways, that’s love enough to carry them.

It’s love enough for every child.

On Practical Jokes and Spilt Milk

I was inside my classroom during afternoon centers recently when I heard a quiet knock on my door. I opened the door, looked around, and then seeing no one, turned and shut the door. This happened twice. The second time, I looked out and asked a class at the fountain if there had been anyone in that classroom knocking at my door. The teacher standing with her class assured me there had not been anyone in her class, but she knowingly looked at me and then another little guy from a different class standing at the back of the line-up, his face giving him away with the slightest formation of a guilty grin. I smiled, turned around and went back into my classroom, confident that the person who had knocked on my door would go on his merry way, feeling no further need to exercise his impulsive desires on my classroom door.

At the end of the day, the teacher who had observed this little exchange came up to me wearing a sheepish expression. “I hope you know that it was not one of my students who knocked on your door,” she said looking half apologetic. Surprised, I assured her I was most definitely not bothered by a little knock on the door- that it would take more than that to upset my emotions. But she still continued to assure me that she would be extra vigilant in making sure that none of her students would ever bother my teaching in such a way, all the while making sure I understood it wasn’t her student who had pulled the practical joke.

While I appreciated the sentiments and also realize that there are times when practical jokes such as this one can be disruptive to the flow of a lesson or instruction format, the two little knocks on my door were minor disruptions at the most. The entire exchange took about three minutes. Tops. If this student’s impulsive knocking at my door became enough to push my buttons enough to upset me, and seemingly cause anxiety for both myself and others around me, then the question begs to be asked: is it time to maybe chillax a bit and stop sweating the smallest of issues? Because truly there are worse things in the world to get upset over than a minor inconvenience in one’s day such as a couple knocks at the door while one makes their way to the fountain might be.

I wonder how much energy we could save ourselves if we only chose to resist getting upset about minor issues. Things that don’t really matter all that much. Like knocks on doors, small frustrations, little bumps in the road. Spilt milk. What might happen if we were to just let those things go- and not let them bother us quite so much?


Today, I was just about to plow into a beautiful plate of breakfast, compliments of our amazing breakfast program at Bloomfield, when a student in my room upset the contents of her chocolate milk, leaving it to spread out in a circle formation all over her desk and then subsequently drip onto the floor. My immediate reaction was to feel annoyed. It was an inconvenience. I was also in the midst of another interaction with a teacher at the time, so there were actually three things underway at once. My immediate reaction was also to internally blow steam through my ears. It’s frustrating when things like this happen. Instead, I began to calmly wipe up the milk, while finishing the exchange going on with my colleague after which, I then ate my coldish eggs and pancakes.

Was it inconvenient? Yes. Did I have to put myself on hold? Yes. Was my first reaction patient, calm repose? No. But that’s okay. I am working on it- and the first step is to understand the issue. And that issue is the need to step back, relax and breath. Let the negative emotions flow away and realize that this too will pass.

And it did. The feelings of frustration passed. They always do. And I am finding that the more I practice this fine art of letting go, the better I am at it. At least for today, anyway. But that’s all I am truly accountable for.

Right now.

Love is the Answer

I watched the on-line news coverage tonight featuring Torrence Collier, of Baie Verte Peninsula, Newfoundland. I watched and I listened to this young boy, in between the ages of my own two oldest daughters, as he describe what it feels like to be the only black child in his town of Westport. The only black child in his school. I took note when he began to talk. Because being the only one who’s different is one thing: being bullied for that difference is quite another. My heart broke for him as he began to share what it was like to be bullied, what it was like to be assaulted. How scared he was. How afraid.

“I feel horrible about myself, and sometimes I wonder if they’re right. If I am all those things they call me.”

That this is happening is a travesty. That this is happening at school is both a travesty and completely unacceptable. It shouldn’t be. School shouldn’t be the breeding ground for hatred. But the sad truth of the matter: it sometimes is. And it will continue to be that unless we as people (students, teachers, parents and concerned citizens) start to realize what is missing in our schools. What is necessary for our schools to heal and recover from this sickly disease. We will not be what we were meant to be unless we realize what is the one thing that must be prioritized if we are ever to see change.

Nelson Mandela (1994) had this to say about love, with regards to his oppressors:

I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

Love cannot be taught, but it can be fostered. It cannot be bought, but it can be grown. Love cannot be forced on anyone, but it can overcome even the hardest heart and break it in two.

Love conquers, gently, persuasively, perfectly.

And the purest examples of love shown down through the ages, chronicled in history and lived in the flesh, exist because a foundation of perfect kindness had first been laid. Jesus- the perfect example of loving, active gentle kindness. And from His example, one can follow a trail through the ages of lives touched and urged to live better. Bolder. More beautifully. And that this kindness works so well is for the simple fact of the matter: that kindness is active. You have to DO kindness. It has to happen. And it is exhibited in countless ways:

Through exercising patience.

Through offering grace.

Through showing mercy.

Through understanding.

Through care and concern.

Through attentiveness.

Through listening.

Through forgiveness.

These are skills, these are gifts. And for those who display them on a regular basis, you can be sure that these fruits of a spiritual life are not acquired easily. One must make it a mindful habit, a prayerful habit to make these a priority. They are gifts one must never take for granted.

But when they are given priority, there is no end to the possibilities for hope. For change.

Our lives are better when we live them connected to others in positive, healthy ways. And when we see people for who they truly are, we come to better understand why love is all the more important. Why love is the answer.

It always has been- and it always will be.

Interrupting the Flow

I teach kindergarten. Which is to say I teach precious, innocent, lively four and five year olds. And you would not believe how much these children at this tender age KNEW about the horrific tragedy of the past few days in Moncton, N.B. They knew so much: the killer’s name, how many R.C.M.P. officers died, how many were wounded, where the killer had been, what he said when he’d been caught.

They also had a few facts that sounded a little strange as well; since our power was off at home this morning (and never came on prior to school), I was unable to verify whether these “other” stories were fact or fiction. But overall, I was actually blown away with what they knew. And with this new knowledge they’d acquired, there was definitely a feeling of heightened tension in the air: tension visible in spite of the fact that things are now considered safe for us all in light of the capture of the killer. Safe for us now in spite of our physical and emotional distant proximity from the actual scene of the horror.

Since the chatter started as soon as they came in the classroom, I began asking the children to save their questions until we could all be together on our communal gathering spot, our worn, blue rug. The less informal chitchat, the better in these situations. When we did finally broach the topic, there were equal expressions of relief and sadness for the fallout. These expressions came out when we talked about how we were feeling, something we always do at the start of a brand new school day, today’s routine being no different than any other morning. And as we talked, several children expressed deep grief for the fallen heroes, the three men who died in action two evenings ago.

I was so touched by their sensitivity.

And as I watched the concern wash across their faces, I was reminded yet again how important it is to create positive connections with those in authority beginning even at this very young age.  Especially at this critical point in their lives- the beginning of their formal education. The opinions we form of those in uniform who work for our benefit begin when we are young matter.  And they can be far-reaching. These days are both impressionable and significant. And as such, I use every opportunity I can find to make local police officers and firefighters visible to my young students. Thankfully, this has been made easier with the fact that for the last number of years, students in my class have had a parent who is a Member. Or at the very least, a close connection to one. The visibility of those in uniform to my students has been pivotal in making permanent positive associations with police officers and the like.

Like many young children their age, my students think R.C.M.P. are like superheroes.  Capable of preforming amazing feats that defy ordinary human capabilities.  I guess you could say they are not too far off the mark with that one.  The R.C.M.P. officers I know are pretty amazing people.  And the events of the past few days only confirm this fact for me.

But in spite of my students awe and wonder, it’s still hard to know what to say to young children when scary things happen so close to home. My students had family members and friends in the cordoned off area where the search had been conducted. I wanted to say something to counter the fear and paranoia. So that the lasting impression wasn’t “what if this ever happened again” but rather “how then, shall we now live?”.

In the split second in which I was trying to form my words, thinking on the spot with wondering little faces turned towards me , I remembered a blog article I had read recently by Glennon Melton at Momastery in which she talked about how we can counter the negativity and evil we come in contact with in our daily lives. This is what she said:

I’ve learned that we cannot change the fact that fear will be released into the world again and again- but we DO have the power to convert that fear into love. As it flows into us, we must CHANGE it before we allow it to flow back out to others. We must interrupt the flow. We have that power. And that’s my favorite kind of conversion – Fear to Love.

Isn’t that powerful?

We can reverse the flow.

And it can begin right now, even in the shadow of the past nights horrors. Even in the light of the coming sadness for families who will grieve their losses. Even in spite of the fact that innocence has been lost. In spite of great tragedy. We can reverse the flow.

So here’s what I said. I told the children we were no longer going to focus on the details of the event that would weigh us down. We were going to turn our sadness into appreciation. Into gratitude. We were going to reverse the flow of fear into an outpouring of love. And we would do this by first making sure that if we saw a police officer or R.C.M.P. member this weekend out and about, we would take the time to thank them. And tell them how much we appreciate their service.

Just a very simple, basic way to start the process of interrupting and reversing the flow.

Everywhere- from one tip of Canada to the other, I am hearing stories of people interrupting the flow. People who are reaching out to officers and thanking them in restaurants and other public places. People leaving flowers and chocolates and baked goods at police stations the Maritimes over. People covering social media and news print with thank-you ads and words of appreciation. One little guy somewhere apparently even drew a picture for an officer and handed it to him, bringing a wave of emotion to that officer who then shared it with staff members back at the station.

All this done in a concerted effort to interrupt the flow and set it on a new directional course, thus bringing good from evil. Making joy out of great sorrow. Incredible stuff.  So profound, yet so very simple and natural when it comes to actually doing it.

Although interruptions don’t always return us to where we began, they do ensure that someone SOMEWHERE will be changed because of them. Kindness has that power to influence perspectives. And if even one of the young children I learn alongside is positively affected towards greater appreciation and a lifetime of respect towards our men and women in uniform, then that one life was worth the work of initiating the INTERRUPTION process.

That one life, that one little soul: they were worth the time and effort it took to positively influence them. It’s the power of one. It starts small, but the ripple effect is tremendous and far-reaching.

May we never forget that we have the ability to interrupt the flow.

On Being a Teacher/Learner…

Their little voices banter back and forth as I flit from desk to desk. Like a mother robin tending her young.  I duck my head in and out, gauging the activity.  Monitoring the learning.  Watching that things are progressing.  Teacher stuff. They, my little brood, are discussing something- and there seems to be a disagreement that is arising.

“So-and-so thinks he’s the teacher,” a little voice says accusingly. He waits for me to pounce on the unsuspecting little rogue. Setting paths straight which have gone awry.  The accused says nothing in his defence.


I do know what is meant here: my role is the teacher character. Their function is to be the student. This is how it works in school- someone has to be assigned the role of facilitator or learning will become haphazard.  And someone has to be on the receiving end or the endeavor will be pointless.

Won’t it? That’s certainly what is often thought.

I lean down, trying to process my thoughts quickly. On the spot. My answer: to explain that we are both teacher and learner in this classroom. Even Mrs. Gard.

How easy it is to forget this truth.  The reality is we are always learning.  And we are not always needing a teacher so as to engage that process.  And true enough: there will be times that my experience will be such that I can share in my knowledge and thus “teach” the others in my life.  This shift between teacher and learner is fluid.  It is hard, at times, to know where one begins and the other ends. Even my thesis advisor reminds me of this in her latest email: that in graduate school, I am to be simultaneously both a learner and teacher. Of course. We state this in theory, but I often wonder whether we as adults make this a concerted practice. To what extent do we truly believe that our children teach us?

In thinking about this, I have compiled  a list of some things I have learned from my students.  In no order of significance:

• The rules to the game jacks
• Sign language
• How to dance with inhibition
• How to listen
• The best way to position a cup of juice, carton of chocolate milk or a water bottle so that it will indefinitely fall to the floor and make a giant puddle
• The characters on Mario
• How cats get fixed
• That certain words must never be rhymed unless one wants to live with the consequences
• That certain words have more than one meaning, depending on your family upbringing
• How to care for children who’ve witnessed abuse
• What sand sounds like
• How not to colour inside the lines
• Why hugs are important
• That grief can be felt in the very young
• Why teachers must be, as much as is possible, a stand-in for Mom, or Dad or Grandma or any other viable guardian because kids need someone they can count on. And teachers are certainly in a great position to be all that and then some.

I am ever the learner. Some days, I feel the burden of such overwhelms me. Great is the responsibility of needing to learn. To know. To find understanding. To become more aware. And huge is the expectation to learn everything I must know. Even in compiling a list such as I have above, I am in awe of what I do not know about my Splendid Seven:

• What fears they have of starting Grade 1?
• Why children sweat so much, even at the tender age of 6?
• How come they wipe their noses on their shirts?
• What details of their morning I am missing, leading back to before they got on the bus?
• What home is really like?
• Their greatest hope in life
• Their truest thoughts about me: the good, the bad and the downright ugly
• What they feel like when they are alone
• What they wonder about growing older
• Why they pick their scabs

I am ever the learner. But I am also a teacher. Two worlds collide even as a perfect collusion is formed.

Their little voices banter back and forth as I flit from desk to desk. Like a young robin looking up from the safety of the nest. I am five again.   Curious and full of wonder.

And I am ready to fly.

Lessons Learned {during playground duty}

His little body tells me he means business. He power-walks away from me, even as I call out his name: once, twice, thrice. And then some more. He hears me, but he’s trying not to listen. It is apparent that he perceives my constant calling for he moves purposefully ahead, making an ever-widening arch as he moves around the periphery of the playground.

Like he has somewhere to go.

I follow, but I do not run. And as I go about this awkward pursuit, I continue to call. While he continually moves out of my reach. We continue this dance-like charade until I get close enough for him to hear the calm in my voice. The care and the compassion. I call out again, indicating my desire to talk it out. Indicating my desire to listen. And this time, he allows me to catch up to him. I see, as I near, that he is fearful. Anxious. It’s been a long day, and it’s not even half over. He tells me what has happened. And indeed, his story matches up. He admits that first his mistake was accidental. But then he says “the bad stuff came.”

My heart aches for him.

It is a long road to travel when you are only five. Lonely and anxious and unsure.

Our schools are bursting with children that present with different needs and requirements. Some children come hungry: we feed them. Some children come filthy: we wash them, or teach them the ways to clean themselves. Some children come with precious little of material value to call their own: we provide clothing, backpacks, shoes, mittens, skates, splash pants and the like. Not to mention all the other stuff we offer that would seem to define us as teachers: reading, writing, ‘rithmetic. But what of the children who come lonely…what is there for them?

What do we offer the lonely?

The reason I feel I have stayed with teaching, why I continue in the classroom- has been for the little moments I have been given in which to gaze uninhibited inside the heart of students like the Boy in my story above. When the guard is lowered and I am allowed privileged glimpses into the depths of the soul: my own soul is fed. I am redeemed. Liberated to be the teacher I dream of being. For I want nothing more than to share in the journey. To share in the process of discovery. It is what keeps me here, inside the school milieu. It is what I love.

I have felt of late a certain sense of lacklustre in my teaching. A loss of passion. As an educator, I have been going through the motions, for lack of better words. The same routines, the same schedule. Even speaking the same uninspiring words as I facilitate learning from the teacher’s seat on the worn, blue mat. And although there has been nothing changed as far as the demands of my job, something has certainly changed somewhere. Somehow.

Within.

True, life is certainly busy and hectic, but not more so than any other moment. What I believed has changed is me. I have felt like I am losing interest, losing a sense of the significance for why I am here. For why I am where I am. I have lost my sense of place. And this loss has had the effect of causing me to feel that I am just putting time in each and every day. Biding the time until the day is over. Believing somehow that this is all there really is.

Until Friday. Until I looked into those sad, brown eyes last Friday.

The turning point for me personally was the opportunity I had to turn a mundane chore into an opportunity for possible transformation. And the while one would hope for transformation for those you assist in learning and growth, the real transformation was for me.

To elaborate. Outdoor duty is a time when teachers take their shift of playground supervision. It is invariably a time when tattle tale-ing hits with full force, while accompanying this rite of childhood is a fair bit of injury and sometimes blood. Two weeks ago, a little girl who already had a broken arm fell off the monkey bars on my watch. I had spoken to her just moments before, turned my back, and then she climbed up the monkey bars and promptly fell to the ground. One never knows what will happen on the playground.  It is both an exciting and terrifying venture at one and the same time.

Recess playtime is a bit unconventional when compared to school norms. Because the playground is a place where risks can be taken, where learning is done through play, where social interactions are at the forefront and where inhibitions can be lowered, play offers opportunity that the classroom doesn’t. But it is also a place where children can feel more vulnerable, for various reasons. Given that the duty teacher is only one person, and that the playground is a big place with seventy or eighty little people running around, a lot can go right. But often even more can go wrong.

What I have found about recess playtime is this. It is the greatest opportunity for me as a teacher to observe children in their most natural state. And added to this: I am at my most relaxed, feeling none of the pressures to meet outcomes or standards or to teach to differentiated learners. Kids love to play in all the same ways. It is very freeing as a teacher to be witness to this wonder. But my greatest joy has been in helping children who need a little extra love and understanding. It’s why I love duty the most.

When I see the opportunity to connect with children and use this time to enable them in their growth and development as individuals, I take it. I use duty to do what I really love to do: help children grow their hearts. That might be allowing an anxious child to travel with me around the playground, holding my clipboard. It might mean taking the time to settle a disagreement between two or more friends. Or what it is often becoming is a chance to observe students who are finding it difficult to connect with other students and thus making this time of supervision a chance for me to help these students solve both little and big problems, as they arise.

I’d like to say that the Boy had a better day after he and I chatted. I’d like to say that he came to a better understanding of himself and others as a result of the incident on the playground. I’d like to say that he resolved to find a way to connect more easily with other children and that he let down his defences. And I’d dearly like to say that the students involved with him were willing to wash the slate clean. I’d like to say that our infrequent encounters on the playground paved the way to continuous, visible growth in emotional and mental well-being for this young child. But the truth of the matter is: he had a very difficult afternoon, as I came to find out in speaking with his teacher.

And so it goes.

But this I know: no kindness goes unnoticed. And no thoughtful, caring gesture is soon forgotten. There will be other Fridays to come. More duty days in which to build his trust. And while there doubtless will be more incidents and pursuits, there will be small victories along the way. It’s a journey with a climb. Or maybe this process of learning is more like a building a house on a solid foundation. We are laying the framework, he and I. And it is not a race to perfection.

It’s a slow and steady process to building more awareness and understanding. And we all know- anything worth building takes lots and lots of time.  And love. Must never neglect the role of love in building the life of a child.

It’s what really matters.